By Rose Curtis: Many IT professionals mistakenly believe that the resume is what matters most when applying for jobs. As the saying goes, you never have a second chance to make a first impression, and your cover letter is your first impression. It’s your electronic handshake, and the message in your IT cover letter must compel an employer to read your resume. Remember, hiring managers are understaffed, and they sort through hundreds of cover letters each day. Make sure your IT cover letter stands above the competition and impresses hiring managers.
The following tips and guidelines will help you create unbeatable cover letters that will open the door to new career opportunities.
Cover Letter Preparation
Rule number one is research. Go to a prospective company’s website or do a web search on the company name to gain an exact understanding of what the employer is looking for in candidates. All job openings represent an employer’s attempt to solve a problem. Don’t fire off a random cover letter and resume in hopes that your application might be a match. Explain why you’re the best candidate that will solve this problem.
Also, make all possible attempts to find out the contact information for the employer (web search the “company name” and “HR manager” or call the company’s switchboard for the name of the person who is hiring for the position that interests you). A cover letter addressed to the decision-maker shows that you’ve taken the time to find out who’s hiring for the job opportunity. If it’s impossible to find out the contact information for the employer, you should still send the cover letter to “Dear Hiring Manager.”
As a rule, cover letters should not exceed one page in length, and don’t get caught up in the minutia of your professional background.
First Paragraph: Introduce Yourself
Your first paragraph is where you create a strong impression of yourself. Introduce yourself, your qualifications, and your interest in the position for which you are applying. Include your years of experience, last relevant job title, and the position and company name you are applying for. Remember, numbers stand out, so incorporate numerals whenever possible. An example of a strong opening paragraph is:
“As a successful Systems Administrator with 7 years of experience, I am confident that I would excel as the Senior Systems Administrator for XYZ CORPORATION. My background in project management, networking, and technical support will allow me to make numerous contributions to your company’s success.”
Second Paragraph: Support Your Introduction
After you’ve introduced yourself and your professional background, expand on key strengths by providing more details that support the first paragraph. In the second paragraph, explain how your skills and achievements will translate into success for the prospective employer. But it’s not all about technology, even in the IT field. For IT cover letters, it is extremely important to incorporate your “soft skills.” Soft skills are communication, interpersonal, and presentation skills. An unbeatable IT cover letter explains how you have used both technical and soft skills to affect positive change. An example of a successful second paragraph includes:
“I have a proven track record of managing systems for diverse employers, including corporations and start-up ventures. As the Lead Systems Administrator for ABC COMPANY, I led the migration from Windows 97 to Windows XP for 160 desktops. By working closely with staff and communicating project goals and work plans, I completed the migration 3 weeks ahead of schedule. In addition, my expertise in networking and technical support has allowed me to train departments to become highly cross-functional, resulting in greater IT efficiency for my employers. I am now interested in making similar contributions to benefit XYZ CORPORATION.”
Third Paragraph: Close with a Plan
After supporting your best skills and explaining how you can make a positive contribution to a prospective employer, complete the IT cover letter by emphasizing an interest in the position and employer, and discuss how you will follow-up on your application. It’s your follow-through that will set you apart from the competition. An example of an effective 3rd paragraph includes:
“The accompanying resume provides an overview of my skills and accomplishments. I am very interested in learning more about the Senior Systems Administrator position at XYZ CORPORATION, and I believe a face-to-face meeting would be mutually beneficial. I will follow up with you in a few days to inquire about scheduling a meeting at your convenience.”
Salutations and Closures
As discussed above, addressing your cover letter to the hiring manager gives you an advantage over the competition by demonstrating that you’ve researched the employer. In some instances, this contact information may not be available. If you can’t locate the name of the hiring manager or decision-maker, use a gender-neutral salutation such as, “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Human Resources Professional.” Do not assume that the reader is a “Sir” or “Ma’am.” Also, close your cover letter with “Sincerely.” Avoid affectionate closures like “Regards” and “Best.” These are too informal for an IT cover letter.
By following a few simple guidelines, you can create an unbeatable IT cover letter that is sure to help you get your foot in the door of numerous career opportunities.
Rose Curtis, a freelance writer living in New York City.
Previously Published March 3, 2009